First drive: 2017 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk in Las Vegas USA
The current generation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee has been around for half a decade now, with a second facelift debuting for the 2017 model year. Changes are minimal, and there is no reason to change it anyway, considering what a fine product it continues to be even now. However, a new Trailhawk model has been added to the line-up, and we got the chance to try it out in and around the city of Las Vegas, Nevada.
The latest facelift is just a slightly different grille, bumpers and rear light clusters, but more importantly, the Trailhawk gets a prominent black hood decal, red tow hooks, several skidplates, slightly more offroad-specific tyres on unique alloys, black badges with red accents, and darkened exterior trim bits. It even has black metal rock rails along the sides, disguised as plastic-looking trim.
Inside, the interior is exactly the same as prior Grand Cherokee models, except for the SRT-style front seats with red stitching and “Trailhawk” embroidered on the leather/alcantara upholstery. New features include new “Offroad Pages” on the UConnect touchscreen that shows wheel articulation, suspension height and other such information. Safety features include adaptive cruise control with auto braking, lane departure warning and more.
While the Trailhawk package is available with the base 295 hp 3.6-litre V6 engine, we drove the 360 hp 5.7-litre V8 version. Mated to an 8-speed automatic, the Hemi remains a potent engine with more than enough power on and off the road.
We started off our drive from the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas to the outskirts of the city, and it was interesting to note that there is no deterioration in ride quality with the Trailhawk’s more offroad-tuned air suspension and aggressively-treaded tyres. It was just as smooth and quiet on the highway as the regular Grand Cherokee, with good body control on corners and stable overall handling. The air suspension lowers a bit at speeds above 99 kph for better aerodynamics.
One key difference we did notice is that the steering is lighter than before. That made it easier to drive around town and in the parking lot.
Once we reached a soft-sand area in the midst of a rocky valley, we were let loose on the moderate dunes which were revealing themselves to be rather wet under the top layer. Due to lack of time, we didn’t deflate the tyres, so we powered through the sand on fully inflated rubber with “sand” mode on the terrain-select system, jacking up the electronically-controlled air suspension to the max, and manually shifting between first and second gear. The Jeep revved hard but managed to plough through the set course just fine, even with the ESP not fully turning off. Several of our rally-driving colleagues got stuck, but it was mostly driver error. We’re pretty sure the Grand Cherokee would’ve sailed through more easily with the tyres deflated, even with the V6 motor.
The lower half of the plastic front bumper can be removed to improve the approach angle further. The normal ground clearance is 8.1 inches, while the air suspension can go at “Offroad 1” height of 9.4 inches for up to 64 kph, and at “Offroad 2” height of 10.8 inches for up to 40 kph.
We were then led to a somewhat tricky rock course, with sharp edges and unfriendly cliffs all around. We simply set the car to 4-low, turned on the hill-descent control (which also works for going uphill), and literally let the car drive by itself around the course, with us only controlling the steering, and occasionally dabbing the brakes when someone ahead stops to take selfies. The speed of the crawl could be varied between 1 kph and 5 kph by flicking through the gears on the shifter, but on the whole, the car was controlling the throttle, applying just the right amounts of power and managing wheelspin on the rocks autonomously.
The bottom of the chassis did bang on the rocks a few times, but with skid plates and rock rails standard on the Trailhawk, there wasn’t much to worry about.
After the event was over in the evening, as we made our way back alone in the pitch darkness along the gravel trails in search of the nearest paved road, using only the navigation system for a general direction to head towards, we reflected on how capable the Jeep Grand Cherokee continues to be. In Trailhawk form, it’s now pretty much indestructible offroad from the factory itself (if you know what you’re doing), and yet it is not compromised at all when it comes to onroad dynamics and comfort.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury and FCA.